In the wake of yet another mass shooting, people have begun to wonder if Americans have become so desensitized to these events that someday they’ll merely accept them with a shake of the head or shrug of the shoulders.
We’re not convinced that day of acceptance is anywhere near, but we understand the frustration, that sense of hopelessness, that overwhelms people upon hearing of another bloody rampage. We look for ways to make sense of such senseless acts. Finding none, we tend to leap to conclusions, look for places to lay blame or target various evil forces that have led, in our minds, to this collapse of the social order.
The mayhem of the act itself triggers mayhem in our minds. As the dust settles, we hear the question repeated: Is this sort of thing happening more frequently? Sadly, yes.
First, let’s define what we’re talking about. According to a report from the Harvard Shorenstein Center, the Congressional Research Service last spring issued a report that defines such events as incidents occurring in relatively public places, involving four or more deaths — not including shooters — and gunmen who select victims somewhat indiscriminately. The violence is not motivated by criminal profit or ideology.
Under that definition, the report lists 78 mass shootings since 1983 that have claimed 547 lives and injured many more. A separate report from a gun-control advocacy group using an expanded definition claims that there have been 56 mass shootings since January 2009.
What’s more, The Washington Post reports that of the 12 deadliest shooting incidents in U.S. history, half have taken place since 2007.
We understand that people will recoil in disgust and outrage at these statistics. But it’s worth noting that Harvard also quotes a recent Pew Research Center study showing that overall, the U.S. gun homicide rate is down by 49 percent since 1993.
Clearly, the dramatic and shocking story lines of mass shootings feed a perception of overall gun violence that does not match reality. Still, there is no denying that mass shootings have become more frequent occurrences. And the public seeks solutions.
Following Monday’s mass shootings that claimed 12 victims, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a leading advocate for tougher gun control in the Senate, issued a call to action to stop “the litany of massacres.” Feinstein promotes a “thoughtful debate on gun violence” and says, “We must do more to stop this endless loss of life.”
The gun-rights lobby, of course, has a firm grip on the U.S. Congress. That much was evident last winter after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre when expanded background checks failed to pass. It is a fact of life in Washington that with the National Rifle Association leading the charge, not even the most sensible gun-control provisions will see the light of day.
As an alternative, some claim reforms are needed in the realm of mental health treatment to better identify and deal with potential perpetrators before they commit their crimes. We agree that’s a worthy goal, but taking into account the complexities of managing mental illness and weighing individual rights, we fear it’s far more difficult than it sounds.
The social and political landscape is not conducive to producing substantial public policy remedies to this type of random violence. That leaves communities and institutions in the position of trying to prevent the next tragedy.
What we’re doing now as a society is obviously not working. And unless a reasonable discussion can be had and sensible resolutions achieved, we are destined to see these horrible incidents repeated.